eMusic Goes Under the Knife; Makeover Unwrapping Soon

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eMusic is now planning a serious overhaul, one that includes the introduction of several 2.0-style components.

In discussions this week, the independent retailer revealed a number of upcoming enhancements, including more interactive reviews, informational widgets, and smarter navigation.  “We asked what a retailer online would look like in 2010 or 2011,” company chief executive David Pakman told Digital Music News.  “The answer is a lot different than today.”

But eMusic is not restructuring its core business model – instead, it is revamping the way that existing information flows in and out of the site.  For example, artist profiles will soon include outside components like YouTube videos and Wikipedia bios, in addition to homegrown, eMusic editorial content.  And bits of the profile can be exported as content widgets into other sites, including Facebook and Digg.  “We’re out to be out-innovating other retailers in the space,” Pakman said.

Other changes, which start rolling next week, are less 2.0.  That includes the availability of higher-resolution album artwork, and more intuitive, descriptive navigation.  According to Pakman, subscribers are often getting lost in the destination, thanks to considerable editorial depth.  Among the modifications, eMusic will also be implementing visual breadcrumbs, another attempt to better diagram the experience for users.

Other elements will simply stay the same.  That includes an MP3-based catalog, subscription-based download access, 30-second song samples, and an independent focus.  The site has always attracted a niche music audience, and the company offered no indication that it would be broadening into more mainstream material.

On the numbers front, eMusic currently attracts a subscriber level of 400,000, and download totals of more than 200 million over the past four years.  The company has been aggressively adding subscribers and delivering downloads, and Pakman has continuously pointed to a number two ranking behind the iTunes Store.

But eMusic’s download tally is mere rounding error in the broader, five-billion download total amassed by iTunes over the past five years, and Amazon is wrangling for number two.

After the initial overhaul next week, eMusic is planning a series of changes over an extended period of time.  Pakman pointed to a “complete redo of the site,” the result of “9-10 months of planning” and a commitment to continuously innovate.